Full text of How to Retire by 20 by Kristen Hadeed at TEDxUF conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – How to Retire by 20 by Kristen Hadeed at TEDxUF
This is a list I made when I was 10. “How to Retire Before you’re 20”. Babysitting, yard sale, walk dogs, and you’ll see I get to number 12, “buy stocks,” and I stop. I figured, “That’s it! I don’t need to do anything else!”. Must have thought the stock market was a sure thing… And we can’t ignore my starred note on the bottom left: “In every transaction, I have to have a calculator.”
As you can see, I wasn’t the typical 10 year old. Most girls my age played with Barbies — and yeah, I did that, too — but when given the choice, I wanted to learn about the way things worked, about the people around me, and I was particularly interested in making money.
I drew this when I was 5: “Kristen is a waitress.”
Well, it didn’t take me long to realize I could just skip this step altogether and start a restaurant, “Steak and Shake.” Where we didn’t have steak or milkshakes, but we did have pork chops, all-you-can-eat chicken and ribs, and our most popular dish: carrots and dip.
When I was in first grade, I was fascinated with Elmer’s Glue. I found that if I put a tiny drop in my desk at school, when I came back in the morning, I could peel it off and stick it on my nail. What do you know? Fake nails. I sold fake nails from my desk every morning. And I remember it like it was yesterday: walked into my classroom, early like usual, only to find that my teacher had completely rearranged all the seats. I watched my classmate walk right into my fortune. She sold everything that day. But don’t feel bad for me, because after school, I went and bought glitter glue, which happened to be much more popular than the plain white kind, and it put her right out of business.
When I was six, I always wanted to be a babysitter — “Babysitter’s Club.” I don’t know what about this flyer doesn’t say: “Hi! You can trust me. I have a lot of experience, and I am definitely qualified to watch your child!”
Or how about “The Girls’ Club”? Not only did you have to pay to be in it, but you also had to follow my 13 rules. Yeah, I started out okay: keep your hands to yourself, don’t say bad things to other people. I got a little bit bossier: be obedient, raise your hand if you need to say something. And then, I become a dictator.
When you sign something with “Thanks, Your Leader, Kristen”… the only person that’s going to join your club is your little sister, and it’s because she doesn’t know how to read yet.
I got bored the summer before third grade, so I started a lemonade stand. I made this sales web, you know because lemonade is such a complicated business. And my favorite part is: “Have your customers pick the price, you’ll get more money.”
Smart cookie! I realized early on that people buy “cute.” So, I set my prices low, but told my customers if they wanted to pay a little extra that was certainly okay. And they did. People paid $5 for a four-ounce drop of lemonade. “You pick the price” worked like a charm.
But lemonade got boring, and I wanted to go into retail. So, I picked my little sister, Lauren, to be my victim, really, my partner, but… poor Lauren. We called it “LK Variety Store,” L for her name, K for mine. My dad built us a wooden stand, we painted it, and we sold various household items on our street corner every weekend. Actually, Lauren sold various household items, in the heat, while I sat in the A/C and collected the money. This got old after a while, so she resigned. You’ll see my friend Ashley in this picture. Little did she know that when I invited her over to “play store,” I was being serious.
I also forgot to mention that these household items belonged to my parents, who didn’t know that we were selling them. So, when my Mom eventually caught on, let’s just say she was very quick to shut us down.
As you can see, I had an insatiable curiosity as a kid. And as I got older, the projects continued, but they became more meaningful.
When I was 15, a teacher of mine, who taught me for six consecutive years in the field of science, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had to get a double mastectomy, but even with that, the outcome did not look very good. Myself, along with 5 other friends, who were also her students, gathered together to start Project Pink. We decided to remain anonymous, but we worked behind the scenes to get our entire school to wear pink on Tuesdays — the day that she went in for chemotherapy treatments after class. It was pretty incredible, but our pink initiative spread throughout the community. You’d go to the grocery store on a Tuesday and you’d see people wearing pink. We were only kids, but we thought that if we could show her that the entire community supported her, maybe it would keep her strong.
Months passed by, and we learned that she’d beat her cancer. So, we decided it was time to show her that we were the ones behind Project Pink. We got our school band to come into her classroom, where we revealed our identity, and presented her with a quilt we made of all our memories throughout the years. The band trickled from her classroom into the courtyard, and the entire school watched as she told us that we saved her life. It was absolutely amazing.
This was the first time in my life, where I felt a powerful — and I mean powerful — emotion overcome me. At 15, I didn’t know what it was or where it came from, but man, was it incredible. And I made a promise to myself that I would only work on things in my life that gave me this feeling.
And now, when I look back, I realize it was passion. When I came to college at the University of Florida, I wanted a pair of very expensive blue jeans. I asked my parents to buy them for me; they said, “No way, get a job,” and instead of applying for one, I put an ad on Craigslist to clean houses for pocket money. I never minded cleaning as a kid because I thought I was getting paid well for it.
But now when I look back, my parents ran a sweat shop! I worked on this day for four hours for $10! Anyway — Mom and Dad — I know —
I cleaned houses by myself for a while, and then I decided to turn it into a real business; hired some friends, and things slowly grew. When it came time for my college graduation, I was offered a job in finance, in a company with a very well-known, popular brand. It was a dream job during a time in 2010 when they didn’t exist. And I immediately turned it down. Because there was one thing missing: That feeling that I promised myself I would always follow. I didn’t have it when I thought about finance. You see, I was passionate about my house-cleaning business — as silly as that may sound — and trust me, many people didn’t understand why I turned down a dream job to stick with it. But it just felt right.
Fast forward to today, two years after my college graduation. I own a company called Student Maid. We’re the largest cleaning and concierge service in Gainesville. We employed 300 students last year. And I know what you’re thinking: “Her parents must have owned several businesses for her to turn out this way.” Not true.